Staci DeSchryver: Fair Winds and Following Seas, July 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  South of Oahu, heading toward the Big Island

Current Location:  20.20 N 156.37 W

Date:  July 8, 2017

Weather Data From the Bridge: 

 

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived!  Today members of the incoming crew on Oscar Elton Sette picked me up from Waikiki and we made our way over to Ford Island for training.  The HICEAS study is seven “legs” long, each lasting about a month with a one week break in between legs – ours is the first “leg” of the mission, and the training took place for all scientists and crew who would be traveling and conducting research through any of the four parts of the mission.  In August and September, two of the legs will run simultaneously, so the project is significant in size with respect to time, manpower, and data collection.  We had a very full house of various research teams, some of which will overlap among the various legs of the trip.  The full crew is a tight family, with hugs and greetings all around during breaks and meal times.  How nice to know that leaving for 28 days (some of them longer) doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your family.

PIFSC_20100926-S86_B-01784.JPG

Wanted:  pseudorca (Alias: False Killer Whales) For High Crimes of Adorableness and shyness from ships.  Photo Credit:  NOAA Fisheries/Corey Sheredy

During training, scientists reviewed procedural protocols to follow for different species sightings and learned the protocol changes for a few other species.  The primary target for this particular leg of the HICEAS is pseudorca, or False Killer Whale.  They are a socially interesting bunch – a little reminiscent of the hallways at Cherokee Trail High School.  Whereas most whale species travel as a “class” in one large group all together, pseudorca behave as though all day every day is passing period.  The entire group of pseudorca may travel together (similar to being in school all day), but they don’t all congregate together in the same location.  They are a rather “cliquey” bunch – with smaller groups milling about together on their own in different corners of the main group but all keeping at least somewhat in eyesight or earshot of the other groups.  Because of this, scientists must identify the group, and then each individual subgroup, making note of any groups that join up or split apart.  We haven’t spotted any pseudorca yet, but with some time, talent, and a little luck, we will soon!

In a broad sense, the search for cetaceans on a daily basis is executed a little something like this:  Three mammal observers take their positions at port (left), center, and starboard (right) on the “flying” bridge – or the topmost deck of the ship.  There is also a space reserved just right of center for the Seabird observers.  Each observer will rotate through these three positions for a total of a two-hour shift.  If, for example, an observer begins at the port side “Big Eye” station, they will scan the water in search of cetaceans for 40 minutes from that position, rotate to the center, and then finally to the starboard side.  Where does the starboard side observer go when he or she has completed the rotation?  There’s plenty to do onboard and to help with until the next two-hour rotation begins.  There are two seabird observers working alongside the mammal observing team, and they alternate in two-hour rotations, so only one bird observer is on the flying bridge at a time in an official capacity.  All visual observers work from sunrise to sunset.

Each position at the marine mammal observation area is responsible for visually sweeping the ocean’s surface during observations.  The two side observers are only responsible for scanning from 0 degrees (the bow of the ship) to 90 degrees to their direct left on the port side, or direct right on the starboard side.  They use a very imposing pair of binoculars called the “Big Eyes” to scan their respective areas.  These binoculars are impressive in size and abilities.  They can bring even the smallest birds far on the horizon into sharp focus.  The center observer does not have Big Eyes, but stands ready to take data if there is a sighting.  He or she can scan the area in general, but the big eyes offer much more detailed observation abilities at a much greater distance.  The center observer is also responsible for keeping time on the rotations, monitoring the weather, the sun’s position in the sky, and Beaufort sea state.

While the visual observers are on the flying bridge, two scientists work in the acoustics lab to listen for cetacean vocalizations.  The two groups work in parallel universes, but only the acousticians can cross dimensions.  In other words, if the visuals see cetaceans, they can tell the acoustics about what they are seeing, but if the acoustics scientists hear vocalizations, they will not tell the observers.    More often than not, the acousticians will hear clicks, whistles, and moans from the acoustics lab well before the visuals make a sighting, because the acoustics team has a large advantage over the visuals team.  The visuals team is restricted to what they can see at the surface, and the acoustics team can “see” many miles away and deeply into the water column, which significantly increases their volume of searchable space.

When the acousticians “see” or hear a vocalization, they plot the distance from the ship. They continue to listen for vocalizations and continue with the plots.  Eventually, they have enough data to narrow down the potential location of the cetacean to two spots. This process is not unlike earthquake triangulation, except the observers can narrow down the location to two spots, rather than just one.  There will be much more to come as to how this process works in future blogs, so stay tuned!  

Personal Log

At the end of training today, Dawn, one of the ornithologists (that’s a seabird “pro”) informed us of the third and far lesser-known Pearl Harbor Memorial, USS Utah.  Utah was the very first ship capsized by Japanese bombs on the early morning of December 7th, 1941.  Found on the opposite side of the island from USS Arizona, the Utah is only accessible by folks who have military clearance to get on the base, making the memorial incredibly secluded from exposure to the general public.  Utah took 64 lives with her when she sank, and a small monument now stands on the shore as a memento to the crew lost that fateful morning.  What makes Utah interesting is that she still stands partially above water, her mangled and rusted metal piercing through the water’s surface like the grasping hand of a drowning sailor.  There was a brief attempt by the military to right and raise her, but it proved futile, and they made the call to leave her remains be.  Her finest and final duty is to serve her watch over the men caught in her belly on the day she fell prey to the Axis forces.

Utah found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time on the morning of December 7. She was moored on a pier normally reserved for aircraft carriers, and her flat and shiny deck betrayed her identity to the incoming Japanese pilots.  Due to this mistaken identity, the Japanese attacked her on appearance, and she capsized almost instantly.  More interesting is that much like the beginning of a bad cop movie, she was nearing her retirement.  She was in port awaiting her execution date,  friendly-fire style, her technological abilities waning and falling out of favor compared to the newer commissioned ships.  Her final resting place was originally supposed to be somewhere in the Pacific as a victim of a practice bombing drill by the Air Force.  The Japanese pilots got to her first.  She wasn’t even at work that day.

Utah was built in 1909 and commissioned in 1911, the second of two Florida-class battleships built for service during World War I.  After a long stint in the service as a battleship, the Utah was re-appropriated as an auxillary ship for gunnery training and target practice for the allied forces.  On the day of the attack, the aircraft carriers that should have been in-port at the time were out to sea, and so Utah moored in one of the empty spaces intended to be held by the aircraft carriers.  In the confusion of the attack, it was determined that Utah was a carrier, and the Japanese navy opened fire.  The Chief Water Tender, Peter Tomich, served bravely as he assisted crew in their evacuations when the abandon ship call came over the ship’s systems.   While everyone was running off the ship, Tomich was running back onboard. He lost his life in that selfless move and is remembered as a hero of the day.

Today Utah sits idly close to shore alongside what used to be a dock.  Her neighbor is NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, and just a little further up the harbor, our ship, Oscar Elton Sette.  It was sobering honor to be so close to the memorial before we left port, and though USS Utah is one of the smaller memorials on Ford Island, I certainly will not forget her.

Species Report:

Number of cetaceans seen visually:  0 so far

Number/types of cetaceans “seen” acoustically:

*Blainsville’s Beaked Whale

*Sperm Whale

*Dolphins

Birds Seen:

Frigate Bird

Shearwaters

Red Footed Booby

Brown Footed Booby

Land Bird who shouldn’t have been out so far in the ocean (so possibly my spirit animal).  Let’s hope he eventually finds his way home.

Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
 
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

Melons

The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

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Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

SE 13-04 Melon Heads

Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga

Rough-toothed_Dolphins

Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
 
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.

Christopher Faist: Limited Visibility, July, 21 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 21, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  21 ºC
Water Temp: 19 ºC
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Water Depth: 163 meters

Science and Technology Log
The purpose of cruise is to accurately count marine mammals and seabirds in the North Atlantic.  There are two separate groups of scientists: the marine mammal team and the seabird team.

Chris Faist using the "Big Eyes"

Chris Faist using the "Big Eyes"

Mammals
The first order of business on a trip to count marine mammals is to ensure that all observers (including myself) are familiar with the types of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) that may be seen during the survey.  Last night all of the marine mammal observers gathered in the conference room to review photographs and field guides depicting each of the species that might be seen on the trip.  Using high-resolution photographs, we reviewed length, coloration, body shape and behaviors that distinguish each dolphin and whale to the most specific level of classification, Genus and species.

To make sure that all (or as close to all as possible) animals in the study area are counted, observers will be using high power binoculars, or “Big Eyes”, to extend their ability to see and identify animals even at great distances (about 7 miles from the ship).

Observation Station

Observation Station

Two teams of four, highly experienced observers will work simultaneously during the survey time.  From two different locations on the ship, the flying bridge (top deck) and the roll tank deck (about 15 feet below the flying bridge) each team of observers will rotate stations every 30 minutes.  One observer will start on the port (left) “Big Eyes” to observe animals on that side.  The second observer will be at the computer to record what is seen and search for animals close to the boat without using binoculars.  The 3rd observer will start on the starboard (right) “Big Eyes”, while the 4th person is on break.

It is believed that this method, of two teams of 4 observers each, will allow observers to count all of the animals in the survey area.  After the cruise is over the scientists will use math equations to get estimates of animals within the North Atlantic.

Pencil Close Up

Pencil Close Up

Birds
Since the weather was windy today, the mammal team did not work but there is a team of seabird observers on-board as well.  Mike and Marie are here to count all of the seabirds that occur in the survey area.  They are able to spot seabirds in rougher conditions (higher wind speeds) allowing them to collect data during most daylight hours.  Today, Mike was showing me how to accurately judge the distance between the boat and birds.  While technology may help others Mike likes to use an old fashion “pencil method”.  If you look carefully at the picture you will see marks on the pencil.  When he holds the pencil at arm’s length and puts the top of the pencil at the horizon, each of the marks indicate a different distance.  The top mark is 300m from the ship, middle is 200m and the bottom mark indicates 100m.  This gives Mike and Marie a quick guide to accurately judge distance to record their seabird observations.

Personal Log

Due to foggy and windy conditions the marine mammal observers are waiting for better conditions to start surveying.  While this is bad for the scientists, it is great for me.  I have had some time to learn to navigate the ship, nap, get my “sea legs” and interview many of the scientists and crew.

What I am finding is a highly trained, experienced group of individuals that love the ocean.  Each person brings a unique set of talents and background forming a complete team with the same goal, accurately counting the numbers of protected species in the North Atlantic.  I am very excited to be a part of such a great team.

Christopher Faist: Introduction, July 14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 14, 2011

Personal Log

My name is Chris Faist and I am a NOAA Teacher At Sea participant for the 2011 field season aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow.  I teach middle school life science in southern California at Carmel Valley Middle School.  In a few days I will be traveling from Rhode Island to the coastal waters off the east coast to experience the North Atlantic for the first time.

I have been assigned to a cetacean (whale and dolphin), sea turtle and seabird survey cruise in the North Atlantic.  The cruise objectives are to:
1) determine the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds within the study area;
2) collect vocalizations of cetaceans using passive acoustic arrays;
3) determine the distribution and relative abundance of plankton;
4) collect hydrographic and meteorological data;
5) when possible, collect biopsy samples and photo-identification pictures of cetaceans.

Chris Faist with a Gray Whale

Chris Faist with a Gray Whale

As the trained observers look for animals, my job will be to record their observations in a computer system.  They will be reporting what species they see, the approximate number and location of the animals which I will then input into the ship’s computer.  These observations, as well as the recordings taken from our underwater microphone, or hydrophone, will allow scientists back in the lab to estimate the number of animals that live off the east coast of the United States.

All of my previous boat trips have been in the Pacific Ocean, so this cruise will give me an opportunity to see whales, like the North Atlantic Right Whale, that I have never seen before.

Wish me luck!

Donna Knutson, September 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 12, 2010

Pearl and Hermes

Me on the “Big Eyes”.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabirds sittings will also be documented.

Jay, a steward, checking out the action!

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb

A busy flying bridge.

Pearl and Hermes is the name of an atoll named after two English whaling ships, the Pearl and Hermes, which ran into the surrounding reef in 1822.  The twenty by twelve mile atoll is under water most of the time.  It has a rich history including shipwrecks, over harvesting of oysters, a military site for war practice, and finally conservation.

Atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes.  Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions spill magma onto the sea floor.  The lava eventually becomes higher than sea level creating an island.  With the surface exposed, the now dead volcanoes began to shrink and erode.  Over time the island becomes very flat and barely above the water.  Corals grow in shallow water around the boundaries of the island.  Eventually the island erodes away only leaving the coral reefs around them and a large lagoon in the middle.  Through the actions of wind and waves, sand and coral debris come together to make up small islands called islets in a few places where the original large island used to be.

Ernesto and Allan ready to shoot for biopsy samples.

In 2003 the Pearl and Hermes reef measured 300,000 acres.  This area is home to thirty three species of stony coral.  The islets provide a needed stopping and resting area for seals, turtles and birds.  About 160,000 seabirds of seventeen different species nest at Pearl and Hermes.
The ocean surrounding Pearl and Hermes had never been properly surveyed for cetaceans.  The HICEAS cruise discovered the water is also rich in wildlife, particularly cetaceans.  The beaked whale is one of these cetaceans.  There are twenty different species of beaked whales, but the two found in these waters were the Curvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whales.
One way to tell them all apart from each other is their teeth.  The males all have different sizes, shapes and positions of their teeth in their bottom jaw.  The females and juveniles do not have teeth and need to be identified by other means such as the shape of their beak (rostrum).  Curvier’s Beaked whale has virtually no beak, the melon of the head slopes smoothly onto a short thick beak. It has a sort of “fish face”.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has a moderately long beak.  The melon for the head is small and flat.

Yvonne and Sussanah listening in.

Blainville’s and Curvier’s Beaked Whales seem to have opposite coloring.  The Curvier’s Beaked Whale has a white face and the white coloring continues on to the top of back.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has the dark gray color on the back and the lighter grey on the underside.
Size is another difference between the whales.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale is smaller with adult males measuring up to fourteen feet six inches and the Curvier’s whale at twenty three feet.  All male beaked whales are smaller than the females, but not by much and that is unusual compared to the other species mentioned in previous logs.
Personal Log:

Eddie looking at whales.

The past two days we have been circumnavigating the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.  There are only two other “land masses” before we reach the top of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  This region has more animals than anticipated.  The science crew of the Sette had 16 sittings and 17 biopsy samples to report.  It was a very exciting couple of days.  The little boat was launched both mornings and was traveling around the atoll also, but at a closer distance to the coral on its own mission.

In addition to the sightings, Yvonne Barkley, Sussanah Calderan and Niky where listening attentively to the sounds picked up by the array.  The array has four mini-mircophones housed in a long rubber cable that picks up various sound frequencies.  The acousticians are inside the ship recording and  analyzing the sounds they hear.  Working together really paid off!  A lot of ocean was covered and many animals were discovered.

Beaked Whales

I brought a plastic lawn chair up on the flying bridge because even though I want to write, I don’t want to miss out on any of the action.  I wasn’t the only one who wanted a look at the animals, the second steward Jay came up to also take a look through the “big eyes”.   I can’t imagine a boat that has a friendlier, more supporting crew!

Bottlenose Dolphin

Some of the sightings included Bottlenose Dolphins, the Curvier’s Beaked Whale, the Blainsville’s Beaked Whale and Sperm Whales (mentioned in log #3), Spinner Dolphins, and Rough Toothed Dolphins (mentioned in log#2).
To me the most exciting part of the two day survey was when the Bottlenose Dolphins were swimming in front of the bow.  At one time there were sixteen abreast.  All sizes of dolphins playing and “singing” right in front of us!  Their whistles were much louder than I ever imagined!
The dolphins were jumping over each other and swimming on their sides and on their backs belly up.  It almost seemed to be a contest on silliness.  It makes your heart warm when they look you in the eye and seem to want your attention.  They had my attention the whole time they swam there!  I had to get up on tip toe just to look over the edge as they were so close to the rush of water caused by the ship.  The group was traveling and frolicking effortlessly in front of a ship going ten knots! I stayed on tiptoe until the last dolphin drifted away to join the rest of the pack.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is definitely the friendliest, playful cetacean I have seen for far!